Oppression at Freedom Park

2013-11-10 14:00

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Two investigations into alleged sexual harassment by the Freedom Park CEO yield two very different outcomes. Charl Blignaut reports on some of the drama that has rocked the monument on the hill in Pretoria

Monthly staff meetings at Freedom Park have become so heated that a male manager was recently reduced to tears after a crushing harangue from CEO Fana Jiyane, which also caused a council member to weep.

Speaking through the chair of the Freedom Park council Vusi Mchunu, Jiyane strongly denies this and says the manager does too. But eight of the 100-odd staff there told City Press what happened.

That was mild compared with when things finally came to a head at another staff meeting on July 15, after which Jiyane suspended fundraiser Peggy Dube, archivist Lubi Ndaba and exhibition developer Ricky Mafadza after they asked him difficult questions.

A few days later, they were escorted off the grounds by security.

On Friday they appeared at a disciplinary hearing.

At the centre of the conflict that has pitted staff against boss are Dube’s allegations of sexual harassment and victimisation.

She first told Arts and Culture Minister Paul Mashatile and her human resources department what happened in an email last year.

Freedom Park falls under Mashatile’s jurisdiction and Mashatile had previously interviewed Jiyane for his old job as CEO of Cradle of Humankind.

The first report

In March, the Tokiso Dispute Settlement company contracted by the council produced a report that vindicated her and recommended that Jiyane face disciplinary action.

The core of the Tokiso report, of which City Press has a copy, reads: “The complainant alleged that the CEO caressed her thigh and touched her while she was seated next to him on the plane. Upon this occurring, she immediately put the magazine on her lap, gesturing her disapproval of his conduct. The CEO persisted in passing remarks to the effect that she has a firm body and breasts. She responded by saying that she goes to gym.

“She expressed her disapproval of the experience and told him that she was uncomfortable about him touching her and that it is not appropriate conduct.

He responded by saying that she is an unattractive [sic] woman, saying that he is simply a normal human being, and that, therefore, his conduct reflects the natural reaction of a man according to human nature.”

However, the Tokiso report was rejected by council because, says Mchunu, it showed “a pattern of obvious bias in that the CEO was not given a fair opportunity to respond to the allegations”.

He adds that the investigators did not consult council and did not provide transcriptions. This, despite the fact that Jiyane was interviewed for at least two hours by Tokiso and that transcriptions were not normal requirements for such investigations.

The second report

Council then decided to commission a second investigation – this time from Maserumule Inc Attorneys.

City Press has a copy of the draft Maserumule report presented to the full Freedom Park council two weeks ago, and for which they charged the taxpayer more than R300 000.

Mchunu could neither confirm nor deny the cost.

The Maserumule report clears Jiyane, but Dube was unwilling to be interviewed by their investigators because, she said, she had already given her side of the story to Tokiso.

Dube was furious that Jiyane made her private complaint to Mashatile public in a staff meeting. He named her and said she had accused him of sexual harassment, and that he would vehemently defend himself.

Although Jiyane and Mchunu deny this, a memo she sent them confirms her grievance.

New report, new story

The Maserumule report offers a very different picture. In it, Jiyane says Dube is incompetent as a fundraiser, and that he moved her close to his office so he could work with her to improve her delivery.

He denies any allegations of sexual harassment.

In his testimony before the Maserumule investigators, Jiyane said that when he began work as CEO, he “heard rumours that a group of female employees at Freedom Park were looking forward to his arrival and they punted him as a young CEO. These employees were allegedly competing among themselves as to who would be the first to ‘catch the young CEO’.”

This narrative – of a predatory Dube – is supported by accounts from department head for heritage and knowledge Jane Mufamadi. There is also testimony from Jiyane’s driver, Steven Mbelengwa.

There are accounts of a tension between Dube and Thembeka Ngcebetsha, senior researcher and acting head of department in the office of the CEO, a newly created position.

Dube and Ngcebetsha clashed and both laid grievances against each other.

Numerous staff claim that Ngcebetsha and Jiyane are “very close”, but Jiyane vehemently denies this. In the Maserumule report, he is recorded as saying he “does not, nor has he ever had a desire to, have a relationship with the complainant or anybody.”

City Press has learnt, however, that Jiyane frequently visited Ngcebetsha at her former home in the Savannah Song complex in the Savannah Country Estate on Friday nights and on weekends. Jiyane denies these visits.


The Maserumule report questions why Dube waited six months before making harassment claims.

But the Tokiso report states that when she told him she would report him, he said “even if she were to report him, no one would do anything or believe her”.

But the Maserumule report recommends “there is no sufficient evidence to find that Jiyane is guilty”.

It came to a head at the July 15 staff meeting. Dube refused to adopt minutes from a previous staff meeting.

She – and numerous staff present – claim Jiyane told them that he knew the staff’s private information, and that of their husbands and their children, and their HIV status. This had not been reflected in the minutes.

“Mr Jiyane denies saying this, and to our knowledge, Freedom Park does not have a single HIV-positive employee, off or on its records,” said Mchunu this week.

Dube was accused of gross misconduct and serious insubordination, and suspended, as were Mafadza and Ndaba.

Mafadza addressed a letter that she had written on behalf of her union Nehawu about press reports of sexual harassment and tender irregularities at Freedom Park.

Ndaba asked about the appointment of Priscilla Radebe, a junior in the human resources department.

City Press has learnt from a source at Cradle of Humankind that Radebe was a stand-in assistant in Jiyane’s office.

Defamation cases

Dube has now taken her case to the Public Protector and has laid a R1.5 million case of defamation against Jiyane.

She claims he told Sunday World that she “exhibited a pattern of sexual harassment allegations”.

He makes similar claims in the Maserumule report.

The council confirmed that taxpayers’ money will be used to fight the civil claim and also a R1 million defamation claim by Ramzie Abrahams, who was fired for not declaring his interest in a tender.

But in a media statement, Freedom Park accused him of “gross financial misconduct” and threatened criminal charges.

Abrahams’ lawyer, Pierre van der Merwe, confirmed the case would be heard next year in the North Gauteng High Court.

Mchunu defended council’s decision to pay for his legal defence: “Mr Jiyane is the accounting officer of Freedom Park, and executes his responsibilities in this capacity and not his personal capacity.”

Enter public protector

Meanwhile, Public Protector Thuli Madonsela has lost patience with the Freedom Park council. In investigating Dube’s claims, says spokesperson Oupa Segalwe, “Freedom Park reneged on an earlier undertaking to furnish the Public Protector with a copy of the [Tokiso] report … They have written to the Public Protector, indicating that such a report should be requested from the office of the Minister of Arts and Culture.

“The Public Protector intends to subpoena the report and the council members.”

Mchunu said that Freedom Park handed the Maserumule report to Mashatile’s office.

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